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Karnataka polls: JD(S) cuts expectations as HD Kumaraswamy switches from CM probable to kingmaker

Every good novel or a film has a subplot. This adds depth to the main story and helps character development. But writers know that the main story goes awry if the subplot gets more focus than it should. In screenwriting, a subplot is called a “B-story” because that’s what it is: a secondary story.

If this weekend’s Karnataka Assembly election is the main story about Congress and BJP, its subplot centres round Janata Dal (Secular). Both are cliffhangers. Nobody knows whether Congress or BJP will win the election. If neither does, nobody knows which side JD(S) will help form a government. If there is no clear winner, the subplot even becomes the main story in this case. That’s when the election will go catawampus like a bad movie.

HD Kumaraswamy

File image of HD Kumaraswamy. Twitter@hd_kumaraswamy

If that isn’t bad enough, JD(S) wants to make it worse. The latest twist unfolded on Monday when HD Kumaraswamy, the party’s leader and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda’s son, said at last that he would be ready to "speak" to parties if the situation demanded.

All along he had been singing a different tune. He was stubbornly maintaining that his party, not Congress or BJP, would win the majority, that he and he alone would be the chief minister and that there was no question of joining hands with any party. At one point he even talked of fresh elections in the absence of a clear verdict.

But now, apparently finding that his party would fall short of his expectations, he says he would ally with another party on one condition: The party must implement the election manifesto of JD(S). Those who are imagining that Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are rushing to acquire copies of the JD(S) manifesto don’t know how to spell politics. Modi and Rahul know what Kumaraswamy means. Kumaraswamy knows that they know. They know that Kumaraswamy knows that they know.

He means he wants a deal with a party whose chief minister would hand over all lucrative portfolios to the ministers of JD(S) in a coalition government. Better still, of course, he would want to be the chief minister himself if his seat tally isn’t too low and that of the alliance-partner isn’t too high.

The subplot thickens

So the king is ready to become a kingmaker who would make him a king? Confusing? No, the plot—the subplot actually—is thickening. Like the King said in Alice in Wonderland, let’s “begin at the beginning”.

The “B-story” began something like this. During the 2014 campaign, Gowda said he would take political sanyas if Modi became the prime minister. Then Modi said Gowda could stay either with him or in an old age home in Gujarat. Gowda breathed fire. But the chemistry quickly changed soon after Modi became the prime minister and called Gowda for tea.

Then Gowda said: "Modi gives respect to former prime ministers ... even though I was prime minister for only 10 months. It feels good."  In a 2016 interview too, Gowda thanked Modi for saying only nice things about him.

Last week in Karnataka, Modi revived this mutual admiration society, in which he and Gowda are members. A red-eyed Modi lamented that Gowda deserved humongous respect and blasted Rahul Gandhi for not showing it. Gowda’s cheeks turned a ravishing shade of pink—well, almost—like a teenager’s on her first date. In an emotion-choked, sing-song voice, Gowda cooed that if he hadn’t quit his Lok Sabha seat it was only because of Modi.

But soon afterwards, Modi said that people shouldn’t waste their votes on a loser like JD(S) and accused that party of having struck a secret deal with Congress. Modi made a U-turn? All hell broke loose? Only for the media.

Modi attacked JD(S) but not Gowda. Rebuking the lover and the lover’s family, pet dog and furniture aren’t the same, right?

Modi said what he had to. He didn’t want his party cadres to think that he was playing some underhand pranks with Gowda.  It was also politically the right noise to make in a constituency dominated by Gowda’s Vokkaliga community in the interests of the BJP candidate. So the Modi-Gowda romance is on.

Congress doesn’t want a repeat of Goa

The Congress doesn’t want a repeat in Karnataka of its historic goof-up in missing the chance to form the government in Goa, despite emerging as the single-largest party in the Assembly elections last year.

The party realised this only after Modi began to woo Gowda last week. Rahul appeared on the scene like a Johny-come-lately—as he always does—on Monday. With come-hither looks that couldn’t be hidden by pretensions of anger, Rahul said Gowda must make it clear whether he was “on this side or that side”. Rahul also repeated what he had said earlier that the S in JD(S) stood for Sangh Parivar and that Gowda’s party was BJP’s B-Team.

Rahul said what he had to. He was trying to ensure that Muslims won’t ditch the Congress and drift away to JD(S).

In recent days, many leaders said many things.

-- Modi fumed at JD(S) for joining hands with All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi, making it look as if BJP didn’t want to have anything to do with such a party.

-- Owaisi quoted Kumaraswamy as saying he would “never” ally with BJP.

-- Gowda said he would disown his son if he went the BJP way.

-- The son said his alliances with the Congress and BJP in the past had been bad experiences.

-- Amit Shah said any alliance was the last thing the BJP needed because his party would win enough seats of its own.

And in the Karnataka election, JD(S) is sharing seats with the BSP of Mayawati who is talking of a non-BJP, non-Congress hotchpotch for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. But there is another thing that would weigh heavily on Kumaraswamy’s mind: Having BJP as a partner would make better sense for him than tying up with Congress. That’s because JD(S) and BJP are not competing for the same voters in the same region of Karnataka.

All these, along with secularism and farmers, would go out of the window and into history’s political dustbin, once the results on 15 May throw up—if they do—a hung assembly. Then something else will take precedence over everything else. Some call it political exigency. Some call it personal greed. Take your pick.

Updated Date: May 08, 2018 16:38 PM

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